Being a mother of one, and a Co- Director of Raj Food Industries (S) Pte Ltd, is a great challenge in my life. Exceptional motivation and support from my husband, I went through these challenges so that my family’s business would be carried on for generations and not just for years.
Having majored in accountancy, economics and finance background in Singapore, in the year 2007 I started working in Ernst and Young. Whenever I look at all the different types of business models and the different industries I used to audit, I became extremely keen to set up my own business as I felt that every business has its own strengths and weaknesses, just like us humans. When a baby is born, we nourish , cherish and take care of him/her to make sure that they grow up to be a healthy kid.
The same philosophy applies to grow a healthy business. I just found that a business should have relevant strategies in place in order for it grow.
Therefore, in the year 2009 I left the Ernst and Young and wanted to be an entrepreneur and start up my own business and grow the business.
At that point of time my dad motivated and encouraged me to become part of his business.
He said, “why don’t we grow the business that I started up?” Initially I was reluctant to take over the business as it was not the trade I was interested in. But when I sat and thought over it for a moment, why not? Therefore, I decided to take over the business and progress it to the next level.
At that point of time I decided that I should expand the business as this spice trade has the potential. Yes, it’s the Art of Spice. I decided that we should manufacture spices by using modern machineries and bring the business to the next level. One needs to spice once life and this goes similar to the need for spice in their food as well.
Furthermore I wanted this trade of manufacturing spices which is a traditional family business to flourish and develop to the next level.
What is Raj Food Industries?
Raj Food Industries (S) Pte Ltd was set up by my Dad Mr. K.Nagarajan, along with my mum Mrs Leela Raj 36 years ago as a small spice manufacturing company. Today we manufacture various form of spices like meat curry, fish curry, pepper powder, and five spice powder etc and supply to leading food and beverage companies in Singapore and other parts of the world.
How did you come up with the idea of Raj Food Industries?
The idea of setting up this company was initiated by my dad 36 years ago. My dad who is a Malaysian came to Singapore when he was about 16 years old. He was working for a provision company in Singapore and he used to attend classes at night to pursue his education. He felt that he should set up his own spice manufacturing company rather than just working for a provision store that sells spices etc.
After all these years of rigid saving, together with my mum they started Raj Food Industries (S) Pte Ltd when he was in his early thirties.
Tell us about the process of starting up Raj Food Industries?
Basically like I have mentioned this business was started by my parents and they went through a difficult period starting up the business. They started up with just one grinding machine which is the traditional one which takes an extensive time to process and they had only one worker to assist them.
They had to work around the clock to supply the finished products to their customers as the production time took them very long.
Business during the initial first year was tough as they had loans etc to settle. Finances were tight. My parents had to source out for clients as the business was not making money to spend for advertisement costs. Based on the product’s quality, their immediate customers gave positive feedback and introduced Raj Food Industries through word of mouth to other potential customers.
After a few years, the business picked up and they started to invest in more machineries, employed more workers etc.
My dad has also expanded his product lines by introducing different types of rose water like the Gurubas Royal Saffron Rose water, Gurubas Premium Rose water , Natural Yogurt and right now we are in the process of introducing the ‘secret cinnamon spice tea’ to the market.
Raj Food Industries is not just a company that manufactures spices it is the hardwork and passion of both my parents who established the company where it is today.
Walk us through how you’ve developed Raj Food Industries?
We have been developing Raj Food Industries since start up by upgrading the machineries and sourcing out for new clients overseas in order to expand our business. We cater our products accordingly to customer’s requirements fulfilling uncompromising commitment to our existing and future customers in terms of quality of the finished product.
Raj Food Industries is working towards a successful niche marketing approach where it intends to find and target not only quantity- conscious customer but also quality conscious customer in the right channels so that our potential customers will find us through aggressive marketing.
Right now we are developing the business to the next level by introducing the latest spice grinding machine which is able to produce higher output compared to the current machineries that we have. This reduces the need for additional manpower etc.
Basically, the development direction that we are heading towards right now will be keeping abreast with new production trends and manufacturing technology.
Talk to us about the market reception for Raj food Industries.
We have been receiving positive feedback for all the products that we manufacture in Raj Food Industries. We get emails from customers who buy at retail stores about the non- compromising quality of the products. We even have people who come all the way from Dubai, Philippines, Fiji, Sri Lanka, India and other parts of the world who are interested in marketing our products after trying them out.
What kind of strategies have you guys used against competitors?
I would like to say that most businesses do face competition especially the same trade business. We do face competition but we have product differentiation in order to compete against our competitors. We differentiate our products in terms of quality and tailoring the products accordingly to our customer requirements.
Like for example, if we take the product Meat Curry powder, some customers will request them to supply us like spicy, extra spicy or mild spicy and the ability to produce in the quantities and packaging required by our customer. We manufacture the products accordingly to our clients needs and supply them.
We believe that customer orders cannot be delayed as delayed orders will have a negative bearing on our image and reputation, including future business with our customers.
With increasing competition from competitors, we need to be at the top of our prospective and our current and future clients minds.
Is the spice industry very different from others?
Well, this industry is basically manufacturing industry. That’s what we do. We get the raw materials and process it into a finished product and supply our clients.
The process is a long one as we have to source the right raw material with superior quality so that it will be a quality finished product.
I would like to call it the “Art of Spice” as mixing the right spice with the right mix gives you the right finished product.
Could you share with us any insights about your industry?
In a spice manufacturing industry, we have to understand that it is a very labour intensive industry and it requires great effort to manufacture a product as it requires lots of work from scratch.
The most vital factor would be consistency in taste, colour and texture.
Each batch of product of spice mix manufactured should have the same consistency in the earlier mentioned factors and maintain these consistency is very important and we have to check each and every batch manufactured for consistency.
How do you plan to stay relevant in the future?
I can visualise that this spice manufacturing industry has future because in today’s world, manufacturing remains critically important to both the developing and the advanced world. Manufacturing industry on the whole promotes innovation, productivity, employment and trade opportunities to a country’s economy.
In turn, manufacturing industries requires the assistance of service industries which causes a shift in the in a country’s economy.
In order to stay relevant in this manufacturing industry we need to upgrade the business from time to time to suit the needs of the advancement of technology i.e, upgrading the machineries to increase the output of the product and to reduce the number of skilled workers being employed.
Any disappointments faced during the initial stages?
There were times where I really felt disappointed where my suggestions were not being implemented in the business and I was told to change my suggestions in order to suit the needs and demands of my clients.
My dad will modify my suggestions and advise me that our customers comes first, we should always meet their demands and requirements.
Thereafter I realised that what he said is actually true, we should always work in line with our clients so that we will have a long term business relationship with them.
Do you think it is harder to be an Entrepreneur in Asia?
Being born and bred in Singapore, and being in the spice industry, Asia is close to my heart and it’s easier to market and sell our products as people in Asians love spices in their food.
I would not use the term easier but I feel comfortable being an Entrepreneur in Asia as businesses can be set up with ease in Asia and the cost of setting up a business in Asia is economical and competitive.
The main difference between asian and western entrepreneurship would be cultural difference. Asian entrepreneurs give up most of their waking hours and sleeping hours to their businesses. They are willing to forgo weekends, social life and even quality family life to get their work done. Whereas, western entrepreneurs are more used to working regular hours.
What is your definition of success?
For me success means pure hard work and that’s not going to happen overnight.
Thomas Edison has quoted “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”.
Based on my opinion to attain that 1% percent of success I believe in 99%, passion, dedication, and commitment to achieve one’s goals.
Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I decided to become an entrepreneur as I wanted to control my own destiny and be a leader.
Being an entrepreneur makes me feel confident and I believe that I can perform and bring the business to the next level, meet challenges faced by the business and make the business grow.
All these burning passion I had within me made me an entrepreneur.
Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there?
First and foremost I would like to thank all the successful entrepreneurs out there for being a key motivation factor in my life including my Dad.
For all the young and upcoming entrepreneurs never give up and pursue your dreams like I have said earlier for 1% of success I believe in 99% passion, dedication and commitment.
For those who have family business I would urge all the young entrepreneurs to take over their family business as building a business is not easy and these businesses should be carried on for generations not just years.